A district court recently disqualified a plaintiff from acting as a class representative because his spoliation of evidence rendered him an atypical class member. The plaintiffs allege that casting sand used in creating Jeep Wrangler engine parts seeps into the vehicles’ radiators, creating a sludge that causes heating and cooling issues. During discovery, the defendant, which manufactures Jeep Wranglers, requested one of the putative class representatives to “[w]ithin 90 days… [produce] YOUR VEHICLE for a private inspection . . . at an . . . authorized dealership chosen by YOU.”
Between that request and his response, the plaintiff, at his counsel’s request and without notice to the defendant, took his vehicle to an unaffiliated automobile service location and had the coolant in his radiator flushed – a service that was not required to operate his vehicle. Following the service, the plaintiff received two unlabeled, unsealed jugs of liquid that purportedly came from his radiator. Thereafter, the plaintiff left the jugs in his car during a 12-hour work shift and later in the breezeway of his mother’s house for about three weeks. He then picked them up and brought them to his deposition. The plaintiff also received several low-quality videos that purported to show his vehicle being serviced. Neither the plaintiff, his counsel, nor any representative of the defendant observed the making of the videos. The defendant moved for sanctions based on spoliation of evidence.
In addressing the motion the court found that the factors for imposing sanctions for spoliation of evidence were satisfied based on the conduct of the plaintiff and his counsel regarding what the court explained was “[p]erhaps the most important piece of evidence in th[e] case[.]” Although the court could not determine “whether what happened [ ] was a product of maliciousness or simply incompetence,” it granted the defendant’s motion and ordered sanctions. The court found that the putative class representative’s “actions have made him an atypical member of the class by giving [the defendant] numerous possible defenses against him that would not apply to the class as a whole.” As a result, the court disqualified the plaintiff from serving as a class representative, but declined to decide whether he could later participate as a class member if a class was certified. In addition, the court prohibited the plaintiffs from “supporting their motion for class certification with any evidence stemming from the liquid drained from [the plaintiff’s] vehicle, or any work done on [that] vehicle during” the service at issue. The court also banned the plaintiffs from using such evidence in dispositive motions or at trial. Finally, the court declined to disqualify the plaintiff’s counsel from acting as class counsel, but stated that the defendant could raise disqualification again at the class certification stage.
Donna Mooradian, et al. v. FCA US, LLC, No. 1:17-CV-1132, 2017 WL 6379281 (N.D. Ohio Dec. 14, 2017).